A sweeping and entertaining novel encumbered by an unwieldy plot.

SHE WOULD BE KING

An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel that uses the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as the backdrop for a magical realist adventure.

Following four characters from far-flung corners of the African diaspora, debut novelist Moore tells the story of Liberia's formation in the mid-19th century. When a Virginia slave named Charlotte dies while trying to protect a fellow slave, her death sets in motion a series of supernatural events that changes the tiny West African nation's history. Her son, June Dey, flees from the plantation and soon discovers he has superhuman strength. He boards a ship for New York only to find himself headed for Liberia. Meanwhile, a white British scholar named Callum Aragon arrives in Jamaica to study Maroon communities and forces the Maroon slave Nanni to assist him. Nanni soon saves Aragon's life with the help of a peculiar ability: She can become invisible under certain circumstances. Nanni eventually gives birth to Aragon's son, a boy named Norman who possesses abilities similar to his mother's. Across the Atlantic, in a West African village called Lai, a little girl named Gbessa is born on a day that the village elders have proclaimed cursed; as a result, she garners a reputation as a witch. The reputation isn't entirely unearned: Gbessa has abilities that allow her to return from the dead. Cast out from her village, she becomes anathema to everyone but Safua, a little boy who promises to help her. June Dey, Norman, and Gbessa eventually find themselves united in Liberia as the fledgling nation is being wracked by incursions from French slave traders and tensions between black American settlers and African natives. Their desires for freedom and family drive them into each other’s arms—and toward a major event in the history of Liberia's formation. Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists' disparate stories together with aplomb yet is also able to render her sprawling cast of characters in ways that feel psychologically compelling. In addition, the novel's various settings—Virginia, Jamaica, and West Africa—are depicted so lushly that readers will find themselves enchanted. Unfortunately, getting these characters' stories to intersect at the back end of the book requires a level of narrative contrivance that sends the tale careening out of myth and into the realm of clumsiness.

A sweeping and entertaining novel encumbered by an unwieldy plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-817-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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